Growing up, before the days when CDs and cassettes were readily available online, I remember the rush of excitement that I’d have when I walked into my local record shop and saw something that I’d only heard about in a book or magazine. Much of my early fandom was born in this way, and I still remember the day when I walked into a used record store and came across an album that would speak volumes to me for many years to come.
I remember seeing the pink text on the spine that simply said “MELVINS.” I recall pulling the CD from the shelf and seeing the cover; a painting that is based on a sculpture by Cyrus Edwin Dallin called Appeal to the Great Spirit; a painting of a Native American on a horse against a golden background, his arms spread open and looking to the sky as if to say, “why?” A 1940s lithograph of this painting hangs in my home and has for quite some time.
I remember flipping the CD over to the backside, and being struck by the names in pink text. Most strikingly was “JOE.” In its ultra large font, it dominated the back cover. At the time, this styling was revolutionary for me, I’d never seen anything like it. And finally, there was the printing on the disc itself, a repeating motif of red roses with black and white leaves.
The entire package set the stage for the music that waited within.
The album itself goes by many names. In the beginning, it was called Lysol. Then it was called Melvins. It’s commonly referred to as Lysol, and most recently, it’s been called Lice-all. Confused yet? This warrants a story:
Released in 1992, the album known as Lysol was the fourth studio album by the Melvins. At the time of its release, Boner Records didn’t realize that the word “Lysol” was a registered trademark, and by that time the first pressing of the album had already been completed.
Reportedly, the Lysol company (the household cleaning products manufacturer) sent a staff member to pose as an interviewer for a magazine to obtain more information about the album (I could not find a reputable source for this, however), and as a result, the remaining copies of the first pressing had a black label applied over the original title to cover it up, as the Lysol brand did not want their name on a doomy, sludgy, noisy record. The label was easy to remove initially, so many people removed the label to have the album as it should have been. As the years went on, the label became more difficult to remove, as is generally the case with anything sticky. Copies of that first pressing, with or without the label, are now coveted by collectors and can command high prices. Even I have been after an original cassette for quite some time.
Future pressings of the album omitted the title completely, and it was one of these later copies that I first owned. The most recent re-release stylized the title as Lice-all, changing the spelling but restoring the phonetic presence of the original title.
The album proper has a playing time of thirty-one minutes and twenty-one seconds; the CD version is presented as one long track. No edition of the album lists the titles of the tracks, and it wasn’t until years later, with the arrival of the internet, that I found out the names of the songs within; songs that I had been listening to over and over again for a long, long time.
At the time of Lysol’s release, the Melvins were still in their infancy in experimenting with various forms of noise and otherworldly sounds. By 1992, they had already become experts on strange, unusual song structures, but it would be the KISS influenced solo albums, released that same year, that would ultimately kick off a high degree of experimentation that would become a staple of the band’s continuing career, and come to full realization on albums like Prick and Honky.
The orgasmic opening track Hung Bunny lifts off with an echoed sigh from Buzz Osborne before launching into a wall of droning, errant guitar chords backed by a massive wall of feedback. As a musician myself, I can only imagine the effects or processing, or perhaps lack thereof, that was used to create this particular blend of distortion and darkness. Being a gearhead, I would imagine that this would be the Boss Overdrive or Bass Overdrive, the ProCo Rat, The MXR Blue Box, or some combination of the three. I’ve always found the guitar sound on Lysol to be one of the more unique sounds I’ve heard, and it sticks with me. I know that Osborne does not use a large pedalboard, and I suspect that it was even further stripped down in the early 90s.
This swirling dirge occupies the first eight minutes of the album, broken only by the occasional, haunting vocal of Osborne, and a cymbal crash from Melvin’s drummer Dale Crover. This early vocal rests lower in the mix, blending into the background and becoming a part of this extended intro track. As a noise artist, I find an immense appreciation for Hung Bunny. It’s the kind of track that one can get lost in; the listener knows something is coming, doesn’t know when, and is completely fine with that.
Just under the eight-minute mark, Crover’s drums start pounding in a faux-tribal rhythm, and the pattern of the snare begins to become apparent with each passing bar of music. Like the guitar, the drums seem to swirl; this is possibly an excellent use of panning, or perhaps a phaser effect. The toms are placed a bit higher in the mix here; emphasizing this cadenced beat.
Although shorter than the initial opening measures, this rolling whirlpool of sound continues for just under three minutes. Crover and Osborne had already been playing together for over ten years by this point, so one can easily imagine that this intro track could have been recorded live in one take. There is a beautiful timing that exists here; the guitar strokes falling perfectly in line with the beginning of a new measure, giving way to a shimmering mash of cymbals and dirty feedback that blends seamlessly into the opening riff of Roman Dog Bird.
This riff is not only heavy, but it also has a blanketed, textured quality to it; that this album has been an inspiration to other bands becomes clearer with each minute. Of special note here are both the atypical patterns of Crover’s drum parts, and Osborne’s spacey vocal. The ribbon crasher has been a tool in Crover’s arsenal since the band’s inception, and indeed its usage here is a welcome addition for those moments when a standard hi-hat just won’t do. Roman Dog Bird is perhaps the fiercest track on the record, the driving riff of Osborne’s guitar here has an ethereal quality that sucks the listener in and spits them out again in one fell swoop.
It’s in the softer outro of this track that the listener’s ear is drawn to Joe Preston’s bass, and his semi-walking bass lines that exist in both contrast and parallel to Osborne’s guitar. It’s long been rumored that Joe may have had a heavier hand in writing this album, although to the best of my knowledge this is unconfirmed. There’s a musicianship here; a band performing as one. I tend to look at these two tracks as equals; Hung Bunny seems to serve as an introduction to Roman Dog Bird, and when viewed in this manner, there’s something that feels complete in the way these two tracks come together through the utilization of melody; Hung Bunny feels like the slower, downtempo version of what will evolve into Roman Dog Bird.
There’s a clear silence between the final measures of Roman Dog Bird and the opening bass line of Sacrifice, a cover of the Flipper song of the same name from their 1984 album Gone Fishin’. While the original Flipper song is more of a punk rock anthem, the Melvins slow things down, which results in not only a heavier take, but also one that feels much more concise. The glue holding everything together here at the mid-point of Lysol is Joe Preston’s bass. Here he has shed the slightly galloping rhythm of the Flipper version in favor of a slow crawl; each pluck of the string is completely audible.
There’s no guesswork here, and it’s over this bass guitar phantom that Osborne takes a rather musical plunge into the territory of pure feedback before discharging into the song’s main riff.
In a juxtaposition to the first half of the record, the driving force here is the rhythm section of Crover and Preston. The Melvins have had several bass players over the years, but Lysol remains a shining example of things coming together and just working, despite any internal conflict the band may have had at this time.
With much of the Melvins’ album art having been completed by Osborne’s wife Mackie, I find the Appeal to the Great Spirit painting to be such a fitting cover to this album. The inclusion of Sacrifice, and its opening lines: Can you hear the war cry? / It’s time to enlist / The people speak as one / The cattle, the crowd, point toward the cover painting and lend it some possible context. There is perhaps as much rhythm to the album packaging as within the music itself.
The drums here refuse to take center stage, they feel buried in the mix just a hair more than before. There’s no competition between any of the instruments; instead it’s Osborne’s doubled vocal that lives in the center of the mix. The echo is gone; it’s only Osborne’s deep, raspy voice, and the stylistic choice of raising his pitch at certain points for emphasis.
Sacrifice doesn’t so much end; instead it fizzles out as Crover’s drums fade around Osborne’s squeals. A single cymbal crash proceeds the shift into Second Coming, an Alice Cooper cover, and it’s opening monologue of Crover’s marching snare. Around this period, Crover was regularly using a marching snare as his main snare; the Salad of a Thousand Delights VHS release by Box Dog Video offers some dingy yet educational views of his drum kit from this period, including both the ribbon crasher and ice bell.
Second Coming is both a callback to the album’s intro, as well as another dynamic shift. Although it’s a cover from Cooper’s 1971 album Love It to Death, it functions here as more of a reprise and serves as the intro to The Ballad of Dwight Fry, another Cooper cover song from the same album. Crover’s marching snare sounds off a dense pattern that wouldn’t necessarily be out of place in an actual marching band, but it’s Osborne’s clean, spaghetti western-influenced scale progressions that serve to create an interesting meld of genres that is barely a reverberation of the original song.
Second Coming leads directly into Ballad in much the same way that Hung Bunny leads into Roman Dog Bird, only here it’s softer and anti-climactic, though that’s not a bad thing. I believe this was done on purpose; this mirroring shift in dynamics. Ballad is a much more faithful rendition than its predecessor, and we hear the band toning everything down even further. Crover’s marching snare cuts through the mix like a cracking whip, while Osborne’s guitar is barely audible in several places. It’s even harder to hear Preston’s bass, but it’s there in the background, serving up the bottom end on a salt-covered platter. One of my only criticisms of the entire album is that the mixing feels a bit off here, Osborne’s vocal feels too high in the mix, and I would like to hear a remastered version that injects some of the oomph back into the track, as compared to the rest of the album I find this mix a bit dry and lacking. The doubled vocal feels out of place here as well; my ears would have responded favorably to a single vocal track on Ballad since it’s the quietest song on the record. Overall, I appreciate the vocal performance itself; Osborne has a range that doesn’t always see its full use, which makes this performance shine despite the issues with the mix. The track ends with the final word in the chorus—insane—presented here as drawn out and bleeding off. Perhaps this was processed with one of those great 90s effects prevalent on some of the more popular albums of the era.
A final spark of feedback and a new guitar tone lead the listener into one of the best Melvins songs ever committed to tape; the two-and-a-half-minute scorcher called With Teeth. The guitar here sounds full of delightful fuzz, and given the tone, this may be the MXR Blue Box in its full glory.
With Teeth is not only the final track on the album, but it can also be viewed as a bridge to the future; it contains sonic ties to material that would later show up on the Atlantic trio of Houdini, Stoner Witch, and Stag. The song opens with a palm-muted riff backed by Crover’s drums and Preston’s bass, and this is probably the best overall mix on the album. Everything sounds great here; every instrument can be heard clearly, and Crover’s use of the ride cymbal, in conjunction with an open hi-hat and the ribbon crasher is a delight; it adds a treble soaked glimmer that washes over the entire song like a wave. With Teeth is a track that evokes longing, is steeped in ending, and yet somehow, it makes the listener feel on par with it all. I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard a song say more in two-and-a-half minutes.
The album comes to its end with an acapella vocal from Osborne amid the Melvins jamming through a faster-tempo palm-muted riff, and its moments like these that really show Osborne’s song writing at its finest. The final moment of the album, like the opening, is simply Osborne’s voice on its own, which brings everything full circle.
Lysol is not only an album with a storied history, but it’s an album that has inspired bands like Sunn O))), who covered the track Hung Bunny (video linked above). It’s an album that concluded Joe Preston’s short time with the band, and it’s an album that featured some of the most Melvinized cover songs I’ve ever heard. Above all, it’s an album that is dead center in a turning point of the Melvins’ long history. It’s the last album to have the atmosphere that started at the beginning of their career, and followed through Ozma, Bullhead, and the Eggnog EP. It’s an album with ups, downs, twists and turns, shifting dynamics, and two of the top songs in their long catalog: Roman Dog Bird and With Teeth. If you’ve never heard the Melvins before, then this is a fitting place to start. And if you have, then you’ve already heard the war cry, and the time to enlist has come.
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